An analysis of American Community Survey (ACS) data shows that bicycling rates are not evenly distributed across the District.
Throughout the city, 2005-2009 ACS estimates indicate that approximately 1.9% of DC workers commute to their jobs by bicycle, but examining the data by Census tract tells a different story. The highest rates of bicycle commuting tend to be concentrated in areas adjacent to Downtown, as well as in Northwest Washington and on Capitol Hill.
The highest rates of bicycle commuting also tend to be correlated with those neighborhoods where the city has invested in bicycle infrastructure and facilities. For example, the map shows strong rates of bicycling along the 14th and 15th Street corridors, where bike lanes, and now a cycle track, run north and south.
Bicycling is also strong on Capitol Hill, where bike lanes run both north/south and east/west. In Northwest, the Capital Crescent and Rock Creek trails provide safe means for bicyclists to get into the city.
Anecdotally, this confirms the hypothesis that “if you build it, they will ride,” and suggests that further investment in bike facilities would help boost the bicycling rate in neighborhoods where it currently isn’t very high.
Though it’s concerning to see a number of Census tracts register 0.0%, it’s also important to understand that these numbers don’t necessarily mean that no one rides a bike in any particular geography. The 2009 ACS questionnaire specifically asks: “How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK?”
In practice, this means that a person who commuted to work primarily by another means, like automobile or public transportation, but still rode a bicycle that previous week, wasn’t counted. Nor was a person who just happened not to bike to work the previous week, for whatever reason; nor was a person who wasn’t working that previous week.
While the Census Bureau’s metric isn’t perfect, it’s one of the few proxies for understanding rates of bicycling. Washington has made great strides in making the District a good place to ride a bike. As long as it’s working, that progress should continue.